While chatting with Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, the subjects of the new documentary Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, Bleeding Cool learned that most important opinion of an Indiana Jones fan: their views on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
"My ranking of the movies coincides chronologically so far. Raiders, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, Crystal Skull," said Zala. "And let's hope that number five breaks that trend." He appreciated that it was a darker film that didn't try to copy Raiders of the Lost Ark. "It's its own thing," he added. "It's too bad that it is, in some ways, regarded as the black sheep by its creators and unnecessarily so. It's a beautiful film."
"We meet a lot of Indiana Jones fans out there and there is a great army of them who are younger than we are — just a few years after we were born — and they prefer Temple of Doom," added Strompolos. "It's their entry point. It's the movie that imprinted itself on them. It's interesting because Raiders is ours."
In fact, Raiders so resonated with the pair that they spent seven years of their childhoods — along with third collaborator Jayson Lamb — recreating the first Indiana Jones film with whatever gear and whichever neighborhood kids they could convince to help. The resulting work, now known as The Adaptation, is as much a chronicle of their childhood as it is a shot-for-shot remake of the original Raiders.
The pair are currently on tour, screening The Adaptation — with the recently completed flying wing sequence added — and the Radiers! documentary directed by Jeremy Coon & Tim Skousen, When we caught up with them, they had just screened both for an audience in Los Angeles the night before. "Every city has its own kind of energy," said Strompolos. "Here it was particularly exhilarating because it's home turf for me. And it was a time when a lot of the people who worked on the [flying wing] scene came together. And things were heightened because its such a film saturated town. It rattles your nerves in an exciting kind of way."
The pair have screened The Adaptation — minus the airplane scene — for over a decade and can guess where audiences might laugh or gasp throughout the picture, but the airplane scene was new territory. "To see the explosive reaction to that is so wonderful," said Zala.
The documentary, which covers the shooting of the airplane scene in addition to the story of their childhood spent making the film, also offers a glimpse into their personal lives and their sometimes strained relationship. "One of the decisions we made was to offer it all up because it would add a deeper resonance to the story," said Strompolos. "The things we emerge from makes it, I think, more interesting."
As the film unfolds, a familiar tale of children from broken homes engaging with the work of directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas emerged. Both Strompolos and Zala said those films — particularly in the early-to-mid 80s — resonated with them in a special way. "Take The Goonies — there's a rough parallel drawn [in the documentary] with all of us raised by divorced mothers," said Zala. "Look at E.T. with an absent dad and [the kids] being raised by a single mother. Those golden age Spielberg films are light in tone, but at the same time, it's not Pollyanna. It's rooted in [that] reality."
But even as they found this connection, it was still solitary as they had no idea growing up that children all over the country were also shooting fan films and deep-diving into their passions. "As far as we know, we were alone," said Zala. "After [The Adaptation] was discovered by accident and we started touring, we discovered we were far from it."
"There was one guy in Florida who came up to us in tears because we [finished] it" he continued. The man recalled playing Indiana Jones in his back yard and expressed a "vicarious satisfaction" in watching Strompolos, as Indiana Jones, go under the truck in the scene where Indy tries to recover the Ark from the Nazis. "That's wonderful to find out we're not alone."
"In thirteen years of touring with The Adaptation, and now continuing with the doc, it is inevitably the experience of meeting kindred spirits," added Strompolos. "That's a joyous thing for us. We have a friend who calls them collisions and those human collision are highly valued. We don't take them for granted."
Also, in touring with the film and meeting like-minded people along the way, Zala has come to think there was a special mix of factors in the era to make something like The Adaptation possible. In those pre-YouTube days, they made the film out of a simple love of the original Raiders without any thought of sharing it beyond a few friends. "Now, in a matter of seconds, you care share it with the world. Hell, you could share it by accident," he said. "For us, then as now, one really winning recipe is to go after what we wanted to do. That's why we made the airplane scene now."
And with the airplane scene completing The Adaptation, Strompolos and Zala have reunited to tell new stories and are "brimming with ideas" beyond their days recreating an Indiana Jones film.
Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made opens in theaters and comes to VOD platforms tomorrow. The tour, meanwhile, continues in the following cities:
June 17 – New York (IFC Film Center)June 19 – Chicago (Music Box Theatre)June 20 – Boston (The Brattle Theatre)June 30 – Kansas City (Alamo Drafthouse Main Street)July 1 – Denver (Alamo Drafthouse Littleton)July 2 – Denver (Sie FilmCenter)